by Heledd Fychan MS
Heledd Fychan MS, Plaid Cymru Spokesperson for Education, Welsh Language and Culture, offers her support for the recent open letter campaign to safeguard Welsh magazines and websites, contextualising this as part of a wider crisis facing cultural organisations. She contrasts the unsustainable situation here with innovative initiatives for the arts and media in Ireland.
In recent days, the Wales Millennium Centre’s artistic director Graeme Farrow gave a rare interview and issued a stark warning about the ‘crisis’ facing the arts, stating that the industry was at the point of being unsustainable due to having to do ‘more with less’. These views were publicly supported by others working in the sector.
The Senedd has also heard warnings from both Amgueddfa Cymru and the National Library of Wales about how further cuts would put our national collections at an even greater risk than they currently face.
The comments echoed warnings issued about the future of magazines and websites in Wales made in August of this year, and signed by 173 Welsh writers, journalists, academics and other contributors to magazines and websites funded by the Books Council of Wales (BCW), plus the National Union of Journalists, Cymdeithas yr Iaith, Wales PEN Cymru, the Association of Welsh Writers in English and Society of Authors Wales.
Particularly stark was the disclosure about the impact lack of funding not only has on the magazines and websites themselves, but crucially on employees: ‘Successively worsening grant levels and often more stringent funding conditions have become normalised, creating a precedent which has led to a race to the bottom in working conditions for magazine and website employees, and low contributor fees. This not only affects those currently in operation, but also any potential new entrants into the sphere.’
Whilst we’re all acutely aware that much of this can be attributed to a decade and more of austerity, and the chronic underfunding of Wales by the UK Government, it is crucial that there is now an acknowledgment that the situation is simply not sustainable. And as stated by campaigners advocating for magazines and websites, the situation faced by the workforce seems to be at odds with the Welsh Government’s commitment through Fair Work Wales to decent employment conditions. I very much hope the representations made by the sector will have the desired effect, as these publications play a crucial role in our democracy. They challenge, scrutinise, push boundaries, inspire and offer ideas that are crucial for the development of our nation. They also provide a platform for a discourse that does not exist elsewhere in Wales.
Contrast the situation in Wales with what’s happening in Ireland. Innovative initiatives are being piloted, including a Basic Income for the Arts scheme. Culture 2025 – Ireland’s first ever national cultural policy framework published in 2020 – has a commitment to double public funding for arts and culture from 2017 levels by 2025, from €288m to €576m. Post Covid, an Arts and Cultural Recovery task force was established and its report and recommendations – titled Life Worth Living – renewed the Government’s commitment to enhancing cultural and economic growth across Irish society.
So let’s heed to the warnings rather than shrug our shoulders, or empathise with platitudes. The arts, cultural and heritage sectors are in crisis and we urgently need to find solutions.